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The Right to Die (euthanasia)

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English 1010

The Right to Die

You are terminally ill with cancer that will probably kill you slowly and painfully over the next couple years. As time rolls on you find yourself in chronic pain. Medication helps but it isn’t enough to stop the ache, or you just don’t like being all drugged up. At least you are alive and you can spend time with your family, but at the same time they have to help you do everything from getting you out of bed and getting you dressed to helping you go to the bathroom. All of this makes it hard to keep your dignity. With the loss of dignity as well as your coordination and body movement you start to think about your life, and wonder if it is worth living. Death seems so far away, and maybe you are depressed or just tired of everybody having to do everything for you. So what are your options from this point? You could spend time with family and friends in pain until you die, or you could think of the possibility of a sooner death.

These are the things I started to think about when I first started researching the topic of euthanasia. At first I didn’t know what the word euthanasia meant, so I decided to look around a little on the internet to see what I could find. I discovered that euthanasia is defined as physician assisted suicide. As I looked around more I learned that “as of March 1999, unless a person lives in Colombia, Japan, the Netherlands or the state of Oregon, the only lawful option is to remain alive, sometimes in intractable pain, until their body finally collapses” (“Euthanasia & Physician Assisted Suicide: All Sides” 3). So I knew that it was illegal at this point, yet I couldn’t understand a reason why someone who wanted to commit suicide and is unable do it themselves can’t receive help. I realized that euthanasia was more confusing and perplexing than I originally thought. This lead me to learn more about physician assisted suicide, the laws that govern it, and issues that complicate it.

In our country it is a lawful act to kill one’s self. If it is legal to commit suicide then why isn’t it legal to help someone commit suicide? This act has a possibility of many consequences. First off it would be much easier to murder someone and make it appear a legal suicide has occurred. Doctors might be less likely to fight for human life. Take for example the first case of legal euthanasia in Oregon. An eighty year old woman’s long term doctor would not help her end her life, but instead referred her to another doctor more open to the procedure. This doctor diagnosed her as depressed and said she was not eligible for assisted suicide. Her husband then contacted a euthanasia activist organization and she was able to speak to a doctor who diagnosed her over the phone as mentally competent. She was then referred to other doctors, one of whom wrote her out a lethal prescription. She was dead three weeks later.

It is obvious that this woman’s husband was supportive of her choice to die. He helped her find the doctor. Hannah Davidson, director of Oregon Death With Dignity, says that only one out of the five doctors that the old woman spoke to diagnosed her as clinically depressed and he was against physician assisted suicide. One of the four who said she was not clinically depressed did a psychiatric evaluation that obviously showed she was mentally competent. Is it possible that Ms. Davidson doesn’t have her facts straight or that this case could have been handled better? Doctor Gregory Hamilton feels that treating and identifying depression can be easily overlooked. He says, “these people need empathy and support from their physicians, not a lethal prescription”(“Laws” 2). He notes that at least four psychiatrists are quoted in reputable journals as saying that this case was handled poorly. The conclusion in the report was also very disturbing to him. The report claimed that there were no problems and that everything was fine.

In Oregon, where euthanasia is legal, doctors are only required to give basic information about the patients diagnosis and prognosis in the reports, and no specific information is required. This leaves the door for abuse wide open. Because there is no punishment for doctors who don’t report writing lethal prescriptions, they don’t really know how many people received them. According to a Oregon state report, “A 1995 anonymous survey of Oregon physicians found that 7% of surveyed physicians had provided prescriptions for lethal medications to patients prior to legalization. We do not know if covert physician-assisted suicide continued to be practiced in Oregon in 1998"(1). How can something be regulated when doctors are not even required to report that it has happened?

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